Until recently, the HX850 was the top-shelf series in Sony's 2012 LCD lineup. In September, the company introduced the flagship XBR-HX950 that now resides at the very top of the line and carries a premium price tag. The HX850, which includes screen sizes of 46 and 55 inches, features the X-Reality PRO engine, Motionflow XR 960 technology to reduce blur and film judder, Dynamic Edge LED lighting, and active 3D technology. The TV also offers built-in WiFi, DLNA media streaming, and the Sony Entertainment Network. This write-up will focus on the 55-inch KDL-55HX850, but the information also applies to the 46-inch KDL-46HX850.
The KDL-55HX850 shares a number of performance technologies with the KDL-55HX750 that I reviewed, with some notable upgrades. Both series use Sony's Dynamic Edge LED technology, which places LEDs around the edges of the screen and divides the screen into regions that can be dimmed independently. The HX850 Series has true local dimming, in which the LEDs in each region are adjusted independently based on picture content and can turn themselves off when the picture is black. In contrast, the KDL-55HX750 only uses frame dimming--which doesn't include as many zones, is less precise in its control, and does not completely turn off the LEDs in all-black scenes. The HX750's primary performance drawback was that it did not produce a very deep black level, so darker film scenes looked a bit flat and washed out, compared with the better plasma and LED/LCD TVs we've tested. We expect that the HX850's true local dimming will allow it to produce a deeper black level, resulting in better dark-room performance. The HX750 had good overall contrast, good black detail, and better-than-average screen uniformity for an edge-lit LED; we expect the same if not better performance in these areas from the HX850. (We should add that the new XBR-HX950 Series will use a full-array LED lighting system with local dimming; if its performance is similar to last year's full-array HX929 Series, then it will offer the best black level, contrast, and screen uniformity that Sony has to offer.)
The KDL-55HX850 also offers improved styling, compared with the HX750. It features a single-pane, bezel-free design, an angled stand, and Corning Gorilla Glass. The depth is slightly less than that of the HX750, at about 1.5 inches. The HX850 uses a smaller pair of speakers (15 x 90 mm, compared with 30 x 150 mm for the HX750) and adds a 60mm woofer unit.
This TV also upgrades to the OptiContrast Panel, which may do a better job of rejecting ambient light to improve the picture's black level and contrast in a brighter viewing environment.
The connection panel is identical to that of the HX750, including four HDMI inputs (two down-facing and two side-facing), one component video mini-jack that requires the use of a supplied breakout cable, one PC input, and a single RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. Dual side-facing USB ports support media playback, as well as the addition of USB peripherals like a camera. The back panel sports an Ethernet port for a wired network connection, or you can connect via the built-in WiFi. The KDL-55HX850 also offers WiFi Direct, so compatible mobile devices can communicate directly with the TV without going through a wireless router. The TV lacks RS-232 and/or IR ports for easy integration into an advanced control system.
As with the HX750, the HX850 picture menu offers most of the important adjustments, including manual and automatic backlight adjustment, RGB bias and gain controls to fine-tune white balance, noise reduction, and a seven-step gamma control. You also get two options to address the aggressiveness of the local dimming. It lacks the more precise 10-point white-balance controls and independent color management that you can find in similarly priced models from Samsung and LG. This TV has a true 240Hz refresh rate and adds backlight scanning to achieve the "XR 960" effect (the HX750 also has a 240Hz refresh rate but uses the XR 480 backlight scanning). The Motionflow menu includes Off, Standard, Smooth, Clear, Clear Plus, and Impulse modes; the new Impulse mode produces outstanding motion resolution but significantly dims the image and produces a subtle pulsing/flickering effect. I find the Clear mode to offer the best combination of image brightness and motion resolution. The Standard/Smooth modes use frame interpolation, which removes judder and produces a very smooth motion effect with film sources. I'm not personally a fan of this approach, but Sony's Standard mode is one of the better-performing examples of the technology.
In the 3D realm, the KDL-55HX850 uses active 3D technology, which means it alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. This requires the use of active-shutter 3D glasses, and Sony does not include any in the package. The HX850 adds 3D Super-resolution technology not offered in the HX750, which is designed to offer better 3D detail. The 3D setup menu includes the ability to adjust the depth of the 3D image in five steps and to adjust the brightness of the 3D glasses (with Auto, Low, Medium, and High options). You can also enable "Simulated 3D" for 2D-to-3D conversion, with Low, Medium, and High options.
The Sony Entertainment Network Web platform combines Sony's Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services with a host of premium apps, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Pandora, and more. Web browsing and DLNA/USB media playback are available. To get more details on SEN 2012, check out my separate review. The KDL-55HX850 does not include an integrated Web camera for Skype, nor does it offer the voice/motion control you can find elsewhere. Sony's iOS/Android control app, Media Remote, includes slider control, a cursor for Web navigation, a virtual keyboard, and the ability to flick Web content from your smartphone/tablet to the TV (and vice versa).
Read about the high points and low points of the KDL-55HX850 on Page 2.
• The KDL-55HX850 should offer better black-level performance than we observed in the KDL-55HX750, thanks to its true local dimming.
• The HX750 offered good light output, good detail, great color accuracy, and better-than-average screen uniformity; we expect similar performance from the HX850.
• The TV has built-in WiFi for network connectivity, as well as WiFi Direct for a direct connection with mobile devices.
The Sony Entertainment Network includes many big-ticket apps, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Skype, and Sony's own Video and Music Unlimited services. DLNA media streaming is also supported.
• The KDL-55HX850 has a beautiful single-pane design and a slimmer depth than the HX750.
• An iOS/Android control app is available.
• As an LCD TV, the KDL-55HX850's viewing angle will not be as wide as that of a plasma TV.
• Sony does not include any pairs of active 3D glasses in the package. The company's least expensive glasses (TDGBR250/B) are currently sold for about $50 apiece.
Competition and Comparison
Compare the Sony KDL-55HX850 to its competition by reading our reviews of the Sony KDL-55HX750, Samsung UN55ES8000, and Panasonic TC-L47DT5. You can get more information about all of the flat-panel HDTVs we've reviewed here.
The KDL-55HX850 incorporates many things we liked about the KDL-55HX750, and the addition of local dimming should improve upon the main thing we didn't: its black level. This TV also has a more stylish design and a slightly thinner form. Do these features merit a $400 price increase over the KDL-55HX750? It depends on how you plan to use the TV. If you primarily watch TV during the day or in a fairly well-lit room, then the HX850's improved black level might not matter as much. However, if movie night is a regular occurrence and you prefer to watch movies with the lights out, then the HX850's step up in performance may justify the step up in price.